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Why All Of Italy Continues To Pay For Berlusconi's Legal Troubles

Can he fix it?
Can he fix it?
Gian Enrico Rusconi


ROME - Italy's entire political establishment is working together to avoid the collision between addressing the urgent social and economic problems that are engulfing the country, and the personal and judicial destiny of Silvio Berlusconi. Every time there is a political statement, and on the regular talk-show circuit, it is repeated over and over again: The two subjects are not related...

But this daily lie is getting us nowhere. The facts are that Berlusconi’s conviction for tax evasion was just upheld and now he is awaiting the court's verdict on his latest sex scandal case; and at the same time, he is calling for a complete reform of the Italian judiciary system. It’s not surprising that a passion for politics is ignited when the link between the two are brought up -- it’s insidious hypocrisy.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government pretends not to notice. They have to pretend not to notice. The days go by, the statements pile up, and the decisions are forced to wait. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take politicians too long to build up the courage and make changes. The social climate is getting progressively gloomier as the political news gets more and more depressing.

Yet for Berlusconi’s supporters, the most pressing problem is to denounce all attempts to oust il Cavaliere from politics. They imply that Silvio -- if only he could be freed from the grip of Milan magistrate Ida Boccassini -- is the only person who knows what to do for the country.

This implication risks paralyzing Italian politics. Letta’s government is just a guinea pig. The proof will be in the electoral reform: the majority "prize" in parliament will be lowered, but the parties’ control of who gets elected will stay the same. This is exactly what Berlusconi wants.

Given this perspective, the specific content of the accusations facing il Cavaliere will be reduced by his supporters as mere slander, without even waiting for the trial to go any further. The same goes for any future judicial processes -- and even for his lengthy trial history.

The battle is underway now and it is truly political. For Berlusconi, this government doesn’t need to achieve anything important; actually, the less they do, the more he and his party will thank them.

Berlusconi’s supporters move on two levels that are contradictory. On one side, they declare it intolerable, even offensive, that he could be criminally accused. But, on the other, they consider it completely irrelevant to policymaking.

How is it possible to put these two things together? For a pro-Berlusconi voter, what counts now is cutting taxes -- Silvio's eternal promise -- and maybe even a harder stance against Angela Merkel and Europe. With regard to all of this, Berlusconi's behavior and private life are considered irrelevant.

In reality, Berlusconismocurrently balances two forces: his influence on concrete politics, and an open distrust and provocation against the magistrature. In this current climate, and with talk of a “judicial reform,” we have the equivalent of wielding a political bludgeon.

This dynamic simply makes it impossible to construct a future common policy among the current major political forces joined in a broad coalition. Sure: we’re waiting for them to take urgent, concrete measures together. But, honestly, who really believes that anything could be introduced gradually and for the long run? A new cycle of political “normality”? No way.

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The Demagogue's Biggest Lie: That We Don't Need Politics

Trashing politics and politicians is a classic tool of populists to seduce angry voters, and take countries into quagmires far worse than the worst years of democracy. It's a dynamic Argentina appears particularly vulnerable to.

Photograph of Javier Gerardo Milei making a speech at the end of his campaign.​

October 18, 2023, Buenos Aires: Javier Gerardo Milei makes a speech at the end of his campaign.

Cristobal Basaure Araya/ZUMA
Rodolfo Terragno


BUENOS AIRES - I was 45 years old when I became a politician in Argentina, and abandoned politics a while back now. In 1987, Raúl Alfonsín, the civilian president who succeeded the Argentine military junta in 1983, named me cabinet minister though I wasn't a member of his party, the Radicals, or any party for that matter. I was a historian, had worked as a lawyer, wrote newspapers articles and a book in 1985 on science and technology with chapters on cybernetics, artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.

That book led Alfonsín to ask me to join his government. My belated political career began in fact after I left the ministry and while it proved to be surprisingly lengthy, it is now over. I am currently writing a biography of a molecular biologist and developing a university course on technological perspectives (futurology).

Talking about myself is risky in a piece against 'anti-politics,' or the rejection of party politics. I do so only to make clear that I am writing without a personal interest. I am out of politics, and have never been a member of what Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni calls la casta, "the caste" — i.e., the political establishment.

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